YARMOUTH — Councilors have postponed a vote on a rental ordinance until Sept. 5 to iron out conflicting opinions on the legality of the proposal.

A petition drafted by Councilor April Humphrey with input from members of the Yarmouth Tenants’ Association was submitted last month in support of establishing a Rental Housing Advisory Committee and requiring landlords to give tenants 75 days’ notice before rents are increased.

According to Town Manager Nat Tupper, the council could take one of three actions: adopt the ordinance, send the matter to a Nov. 6 referendum vote, or wait up to 30 days to decide which course to take.

Councilor Richard Plourde said during an Aug. 16 meeting that the council had a fourth option – to kill the proposal if it is deemed unlawful, a measure he discussed with attorneys from the Maine Municipal Association.

“We have the right to determine whether or not a proposed ordinance is lawful,” Plourde said. “If we determine that it is not lawful, we can refuse to enact it (or) send it to voters and under the Town Charter … citizens, if they disagree with that, could petition the council to overrule that.”

The ordinance would apply to landlords with 10 or more units.

Last October, Humphrey presented the council with a similar proposal after receiving complaints about rent increases from tenants at Taymil’s Partners LLC’s four properties: Yarmouth Pointe, Yarmouth Green, Yarmouth Place and Yarmouth Landing. The proposal was ultimately rejected.

Tupper said the council must vote next month on whether to send the question in time for inclusion on the November ballot. If they don’t make a decision by then, Tupper said they could send it to voters in June.

Ann Robinson, of Pierce Atwood, who is representing property management company Taymil Partners, said the proposed ordinance is illegal because it exceeds the state’s limit on what municipalities can send to referendum to “those matters which are exclusively municipal and in which the state has no interest.”

Robinson also said the proposal infringes on voters’ First Amendment rights and their right to due process, infringes on the right of Taymil Partners LLC to equal protection, and contains inconsistencies and ambiguities that render it unlawful.

The company has said it already provides 75 days’ notice of rent increases.

Steven Astrove, president and CEO of Taymil, which includes four rental properties in town, previously said the ordinance is part of a “misguided strategy to impose rent control to keep housing costs at below-market rental rates” and specifically targets Taymil.

Town Attorney Shana Cook Mueller, of Bernstein Shur, in a June 6 email said she had “no concerns with the form” of the proposal. However, she said, “one arguably unsettled question of law … is whether the state attempted to preempt municipal regulation of rental housing” because it mandates a 45-day notice period for rent increases.

Also during the Aug. 16 meeting, councilors again discussed concerns about Humprey’s objectivity on the issue.

Prior to opening public comment Thursday, Councilor Pat Thompson asked Humphrey to recuse herself from the discussion and a vote on the proposal, saying it would be a clear conflict of interest because Humphrey wrote the petition, gathered signatures and “attempted to negotiate” with representatives of Taymil.

“I think that you are no longer unbiased and one could argue that … as a public official, this could be construed as an abuse of power,” Thompson said. “It certainly is a misuse, in my opinion, of your public office and … a breach of the public’s trust.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be contacted at 781-3661, ext. 183 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: JocelynVanSaun